Scheduling Patrons to Visit the Library

Last week I learned how to schedule patrons to visit a prison library while visiting an institution. Patrons once were able to visit the library when ever they pleased when the librarian was working. This had complications for the librarian. When the library’s small space was flooded with patrons, the librarian and staff would be so overwhelmed that the chaotic feeling compromised the efficiency of library and burned out staff.

Now patrons request to visit the library by using request slips on their decks (living quarters). These request slips give the librarians their name and ID number, reason of request (for legal work or to use the leisure library), if they are in school and when, and if they work and when their days off may be.

The librarian then assesses the requests to make a schedule of patrons to visit the library. Around 25 patrons are scheduled in the morning and in the afternoon library sessions. Patrons are scheduled when it best fits their schedule, the time they need to spend in the library (legal research that will be time consuming will be scheduled in the longer session), at a rate that will even out the amount of legal vs. leisure patrons as to not overwhelm law clerks, etc. Patrons that have an upcoming deadline will be scheduled for multiple days in a row upon their request.

Once the schedule is made, the schedule is entered into a system that will produce what is called call slips. Each patron is given a call slip which acts as a permission slip to walk through the institution to the library.

This system seems to work better than the chaotic open library, but around 1/3 of patrons do not come to their library scheduled time. This may be for a reason out of control of the patron. The librarian puts a lot of their weekly time into creating call slips, so this system could be revamped to work better for the librarian and patrons.

Law Library Requirements and Access for Isolated Patrons

As a non-law fluent person, this was the best resource to understand what the law says about legal libraries in prisons. If you are looking for the same information. This should be your first stop! Sources are so abundant that the notes on each page of this book are more than half of the page which includes further information such as cases and laws with quoted text.

I’m not really comfortable to talk about what the law is right now, but what I found interesting that could apply to non-legal libraries is the following quote:

Courts understand that a “cell delivery” or “paging” system, by itself, does not provide adequate court access because prisoners who cannot visit the library generally will not know what materials to ask for. If prison officials do permit segregation inmates to have physical access to the law library, that access must be adequate. (242)

This might make us rethink how delivery services to hospital and mental health (and other) locations in the prison system might be improved for better access. For example, bringing a cart full of books might be better suited in addition to books requested from patrons instead of just the requested reads.


Boston, John and Daniel Manville. Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Sooo Much Urban Fiction — So Close To Being Added To The Jail Libraries!!!

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Months ago at a meeting of jail librarians, we began talking about the small number of urban fiction books in the jail libraries’ collections despite the very high number of requests from patrons asking for this genre.

From this meeting, a jail librarian asked the key members who oversaw the jail libraries for an in-house grant to purchase urban fiction despite the mission of the organization is to collect only donated books with the exception of dictionaries. And, we got permission to buy a considerable number of books. We were also asked to buy graphic novels; here we decided to buy only Manga (look for an other post as to why).

By consulting many books, blog posts, websites, and readers advisory brochures, I was able to come up with a collection development list for the jail librarians to approve. One of the most helpful sources were:

  1. Honig, Megan. Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.
  2. Morris, Vanessa Irving. The Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.
  3. Patron Input! I asked patrons at each library what titles they enjoy and would like to see at the library. One patron asked to go back to his cell to get a list he had already made for his own reference! He had a list in a small address book that was four pages long, in small print, and in alphabetical order. His list was so extensive that he let me borrow his notebook to copy the titles until the end of library hours and had our library assistant bring his notebook back to him. Asking this patron for input engaged the patron significantly to the project and he took more pride in the library, for he once checked-in on the project stating that he thought he had something to do with getting urban fiction into his library and he did. It is unfortunate that now that we are getting ready to have the books circulate, he has been sentenced and transferred out of jail and into a prison facility.

Now that we have some of our books we are labeling them with our sticker system  (you can see me starting to put some of the stickers on the books in the photo above). We do not separate Urban Fiction or  black authors from the libraries’ fiction sections like large book stores do, but we do add blue and white striped stickers in addition to stickers that display the genre (fiction, romance, etc) to distinguish black authors. This has been effective in helping patrons learn how to browse more effectively and search for items of their interest in their short time allowed in the library (usually 10 minutes or less) without having a library catalog.

After stickers are put on, we are attempting to expand the lifespan of our purchased books by wrapping the books in contact paper. See blog post Expanding Lifespan of Paperbacks in the Jail Library for more information and a tutorial video.

Once the purchased collection is prepped for the library, our plan to track the lifespan of the books will enter it’s final stages. Once those documents are complete I’ll share them with you all. Look for the catagory “Purchased Books Project 2012.”

Guantanamo Bay – Patrons’ Rights

Guantanamo Bay. This facility is considered illegal to some and to others a necessity. It may come as a surprise to some that they have a library.

Guantanamo's library

How are prisoners’ rights different in this facility compared to other facilities? The answer is that “The US military says the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have no legal rights under American law” (Guantanamo Bay Library). While the reigning law is that prisoners have no rights, several organizations do not agree.

The ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table adopted the following resolution on Guantanamo in 2008:

… therefor it be RESOLVED, that the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association
1. calls on the President of the United States to begin the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba;
2. strongly urges that, until such time that the prison is closed, all prisoners shall immediately be afforded the right to read and supplied with materials enabling them to do so by the United States Department of Defense and its libraries; and
3. recognizes that all people imprisoned as a result of the belligerent acts of the United States and other warring entities be afforded with all rights described by the Geneva Conventions Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and any other rules of law pertaining to the humane treatment of prisoners.

The full resolution can be found in their newsletter archives.

For a further glimpse into this institution’s rules of prisoner communication to the outside world….

Prisoners wrote poems and sent them to their pro bono lawyer, Marc Falkoff, because it was the only communication they were allowed. Falkoff found himself with a collection of work from his clients and had a selection of these poems approved by the Pentagon (each line needed to get an okay) to be published in Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

Death Poem by Jumah al Dossari

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the “protectors or peace.”

This institution’s library work is intriguing. In the next week or so, I’ll post more about Guantanamo and it’s library.


Falkoff, Marc. Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak. Iowa City: Iowa City Press, 2007.

Guantanamo Bay’s Library. Aug. 26, 2009. PRI’s The World.

Resolution on Guantanamo & the Rights of Prisoners to Read

This is post is the last in a series on exploring some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons. Other blog posts include:

Prisoners’ Rights to Legal Material

I was under the assumption that people behind bars did not necessarily have the right to a library, but did have rights to legal material to help represent themselves in their case.

A Library Science classmate of mine, who also  also has her law degree, enlightened me about some legal material after I told her about what I saw at the jail library I volunteer at. What I saw was the contents of the jail law library was 2 multi-volumed book sets that were HUGE; to use these books, you have to request to see them and they cannot be checked out. My classmate told me that 1. they are bad law books, just like regular books and 2. law books like these contain just the law, nothing else.

The organization that I volunteer with is not allowed to bring in legal material because of the collection that already exists. If these huge books are slightly bad or incomprehensible how is being able to be with these books true access if you cannot understand them? So, in this case there are no how-to-interpret-the-law books to aid prisoners.

So, what are prisoners rights to legal material?

Author of Prison Libraries in Wikipedia pulls the following information out of the 2011 Library Trends that focuses on Prison Librarianship and the Law Library Journal:

In addition, in 1977, Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), ruled that prisons were required to provide access to people trained in law or law library collections in order to meet the constitutional requirement of meaningful access to the courts. In 1996, Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 804 (1996), limited the requirement placed on correctional facilities. Following Lewis many libraries reduced their collections.[2]

Lewis v. Casey ruled that prisoners do not have an absolute right to a law library. Rather an inmate must show that he was unable to pursue a legal claim because of the inadequacy of the law library.[6] In other words, lack of an adequate law library caused the inmate actual injury. The ruling in Lewis makes it much more difficult to seek improvement to a prison’s law library. As one court pointed out, the ability to litigate a claim of denial of access demonstrates that the inmate has no denial of access.[7] However, some believe that Lewis is not as devastating as it appears to be and Bounds v. Smith still remains good law.

Even if a person behind bars is allowed access to legal material, who decides how much time is adequate and how long a wait should be for trial when a prisoner is providing their own defense?

In a recent article, Suspect in 2010 Branford murder claims limited access to prison library not enough to prepare his own legal defensehow much time Dr. Lishan Wang is allowed to use legal material to defend himself (with LaPierre as a standby defender) is the issue:

“I didn’t know until today that it was just one hour,” LaPierre said. “It’s not enough time to prepare for his defense. I will pursue that issue (with Murphy). He should have enough access giving him sufficient time to prepare his case.”

“On that schedule,” LaPierre said of the current access, “it would take a long time for him to prepare.”

Trying to understand legal material and prisoner’s rights to the material is too much for me to comprehend in just one blog post! I am frankly glad that someone well versed shared their knowledge in Wikipedia. This is a subject that needs more time to explore and understand.


AALL – – American Association of Law Libraries – Search for “prisons” to see some of their content on prison law librarianship and issues similar to Out of Bounds.

Prison Libraries Wikipedia Page

Suspect in 2010 Branford murder claims limited access to prison library not enough to prepare his own legal defense.

This is part of a series on exploring some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons. Other blog posts include:

Prison Family Bill of Rights

Now that we’ve looked at children’s rights with a parent in the PIC, what about rights of the family?

The blog Razer Wire Women reports on the Prison Family Bill of Rights after attending the2012 National Prisoner’s Family Conference. Their blog post is essential in this conversation.

First of all, how do they identify family?

The term “Prison Family” is herein defined as including, but not limited to, a blood or adopted relation, spouse, domestic partner and/or trusted friend designated by an incarcerated person upon or during a period of confinement as one who will serve as an outside contact on his or her behalf for the relaying of any communication regarding the medical and mental health, security status and location of the incarcerated person and/or for making critical decisions on behalf of the incarcerated person in the event of his or her incapacitation..

What are the rights that prison families have?

The Prison Family has the right to be treated with respect and dignity by any and all representatives of the prison system at all times.

The Prison Family has the right to expect and be assured the utmost care is established and maintained to provide a healthy and safe living environment that promotes effective rehabilitation, reintegration and parole planning throughout a loved one’s incarceration.

The Prison Family has the right to be treated and integrated as a positive resource in the process of rehabilitation and reintegration preparation and parole planning of an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to receive consistency in the enforcement of rules; regulations and policies affecting a loved one’s incarceration.

The Prison Family has the right to receive consistency in the enforcement of rules; regulations and/or policies affecting visitation and/or all forms of communication with an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be informed in a timely, clear, forthright and respectful manner of any changes in rules; regulations and/or policies affecting visitation and/or communication with an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be informed within 24 hours and in a compassionate manner regarding the illness; injury and/or death of an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to extended visitation during the hospitalization of an incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be informed within 24 hours of the security status change and/or transfer of an incarcerated loved one to a new facility.

The Prison Family has the right to be provided specific written and evidenced-based reasons for a loved one’s
security status change; clemency denial and/or parole denial.

The Prison Family has the right to have their incarcerated loved one housed within a distance from their permanent address that provides reasonable access for visitation and/or to facilitate serving as a resource in the rehabilitation and reintegration  preparation and parole planning of their incarcerated loved one.

The Prison Family has the right to be provided the current specific name or names and direct phone numbers of prison officials to contact for questions about their incarcerated loved one.

(Their blog emerged after the printing of their book, which looks to be one to add to your ever growing ‘to read’ list,: Razor wire women : prisoners, activists, scholars, and artists.)

Do these family bill of rights have anything to do with prison librarianship, especially since the library serves the family member that is imprisoned? Heck yeah! Prison librarians can foster programing that supports family on the outside, similar to the Children of Incarcerated Parents – A Bill of Rights#8:  I have the right to a lifelong relationship with my parent.

For example, programs that offer parents to have story time in person or via distance by audio recording or video with their child is an example of a practice attempting to maintain a healthy family communication and closeness while one is not at home. Below is a news channel’s video that will give you somewhat of a feel about story-time programs.

Resources Benefiting Families/Re-entry Benefiting Families provides more than just this program to maintain and foster parent and family relationships, which are not library-focused. For example, other programs include the Marriages That Matter program, life skills for offenders and their family members too, and a Fatherhood Initiative.

Additional Resource:

Travis, Jeremy and Michelle Waul, eds. Prisoners Once Removed: The Impact of Incarceration and Reentry on Children, Families, and Communities. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute Press, 2003.

This is part of a series on exploring some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons. Other blog posts include:

Prisoners’ Right to Read

Do people behind bars have the right to read? The American Library Association believes so. On June 29, 2010, the Prisoners’ Right to Read was adopted by the ALA Council as an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights.

Q: Why is reading vital in the Prison Industrial Complex?
A: The ALA says “The right to choose what to read is deeply important, and the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society” (ALA).

Below is the main points in the adopted Prisoners’ Rights to Read:

These principles should guide all library services provided to prisoners:

  • Collection management should be governed by written policy, mutually agreed upon by librarians and correctional agency administrators, in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, its Interpretations, and other ALA intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional libraries should have written procedures for addressing challenges to library materials, including a policy-based description of the disqualifying features, in accordance with “Challenged Materials” and other relevant intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional librarians should select materials that reflect the demographic composition, information needs, interests, and diverse cultural values of the confined communities they serve.
  • Correctional librarians should be allowed to purchase materials that meet written selection criteria and provide for the multi-faceted needs of their populations without prior correctional agency review. They should be allowed to acquire materials from a wide range of sources in order to ensure a broad and diverse collection. Correctional librarians should not be limited to purchasing from a list of approved materials.
  • Age is not a reason for censorship. Incarcerated children and youth should have access to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, as stated in “Free Access to Libraries for Minors.”
  • Correctional librarians should make all reasonable efforts to provide sufficient materials to meet the information and recreational needs of prisoners who speak languages other than English.
  • Equitable access to information should be provided for persons with disabilities as outlined in “Services to People with Disabilities.”
  • Media or materials with non-traditional bindings should not be prohibited unless they present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security.
  • Material with sexual content should not be banned unless it violates state and federal law.
  • Correctional libraries should provide access to computers and the Internet. (ALA)

Are there other prisoners’ rights to consider? And what does the PIC think about this rights that are not necessarily seen the actual law? This week and the following we will explore some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons.

ALA. Prisoners’ Right to Read. ALA.

The following are the rest of the blog posts in my exploration on prisoners’ rights that affect them as patrons: